Editor’s Note: This article is part of a larger series about lesser-known religions called “Understanding Faith.” In light of recent events, this week’s subject is Chrislam, a merging of Christian and Islamic theologies. TheBlaze recently covered the Sikh faith and Islam in detail.
Christianity and Islam are the world's two largest religions. With 2.18 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims the world-round, it's safe to say that these two faith systems impact, to a profound extent, social and political events occurring in diverse societies. But what about "Chrislam," the controversial belief system that combines both traditions to form its own fascinating religious brand?
While you may not be aware of its existence, this controversial faith system has small pockets of adherents in parts of Africa and has garnered a plethora of intrigue -- and scrutiny -- here in the United States.
On the surface, the notion that the two faiths would be able to mesh successfully seems next-to-impossible. After all, Christianity relies upon the central notion that Jesus is the only way one can attain eternal salvation. To the contrary, Muslims don't believe that Christ was God's son, nor do they accept the notion that he perished on a cross to save humanity's sins, thus creating a debacle when it comes to rectifying the faith's central underpinnings (watch a full PBS special about Chrislam here).
Understanding Chrislam hinges upon examining its leader's motivations for creating and sustaining the merged faith. Beliefnet examines this, noting that Shamsuddin Saka, a religious leader in Nigeria, is seeking to bridge the religious divide and to bring together Muslims and Christians like never before. In a region where deadly tensions between adherents of the two faiths regularly erupt, Saka is on a unique mission.
Saka, who was born a Muslim but is now a Christian at heart, claims that he felt called by God to launch his Chrislam ministry following a pilgrimage to Mecca, a commanded voyage that is one of Islam's Five Pillars (read our extensive historical account of Islam here). The faith leader takes the unique approach of preaching about the common roots that peoples of both faiths share (i.e. that they are both children of Abraham, both promote peace, etc.).
He told Public Radio International (PRI) that God told him to "make peace between Christian and Muslim," thus he has sought to embark on that very mission. While Saka experienced this revelation, the seeds for his journey were likely set at an early age, as he was reportedly influenced by both faith systems when he was a young boy.
His father, a herbalist, saw Christians and Muslims, alike, for healing, so both traditions were common fixtures in his early existence. While Saka now sees himself as a believer in Jesus Christ, he told The Christian Science Monitor that it doesn't "mean Islam is bad." The outlet goes on to describe the ministry that Saka has built, in detail:
At first, it seems a surprising sight: inside a two-story mosque in sub-Saharan Africa's largest metropolis hangs a life-size portrait of Jesus Christ.
Yet worshipers at "The True Message of God Mission" say it's entirely natural for Christianity and Islam to cexist, even overlap. They begin their worship by praying at the Jesus alcove and then "running their deliverance" - sprinting laps around the mosque's mosaic-tiled courtyard, praying to the one God for forgiveness and help. They say it's akin to Israelites circling the walls of Jericho - and Muslims swirling around the Ka'ba shrine in Mecca.
This group - originally called "Chris-lam-herb" for its mix-and-match approach to Christianity, Islam, and traditional medicine - is a window on an ongoing religious ferment in Africa. It's still up for debate whether this group, and others like it, could become models for Muslim-Christian unity worldwide or whether they're uniquely African. But either way, they are "part of a trend," says Dana Robert, a Boston University religion professor.
To facilitate this trend, Saka does more than merely keep a Koran and a Bible in his house of worship. For the past two (by some accounts four) decades that Chrislam has been around, Saka has preached from both holy books to a congregation that houses 1,500 seats. He uses Christian and Muslim worship songs and, for maximim impact, his sermons are shown on local television.
Saka is revered by his followers, as they call him "His Royal Holiness," "The Messenger" and "Ifeoluwa" (or "The Will of God).
Sunday morning services begin with Koranic prayer, PRI reports. While Islamic invocations are uttered, the outlet also notes that the environment is reminiscent of a Pentecostal church service. Saka also preaches about the common elements inherent in both Islam and Christianity.
There does seem to be a bit of debate surrounding who actually founded Chrislam (hence the central question surrounding how long the faith has been around). While Saka's story is compelling, another man, named Tela Tella, claims that he came up with the idea for the faith system in the 1970s, well before Saka launched his ministry. Tela Tella's congregation, which isn't far from Saka's in terms of geographic location, has about 500 worshippers, Beliefnet notes.
Based on the numbers, Saka's church is much larger than Tela Tella's, which is reportedly due to more robust recruiting activities. Most outlets that have explored Chrislam fail to mention Tela Tella, as Saka's efforts have attracted more widespread attention.
PRI notes that the faith leader regularly reaches out to politicians and that he goes directly to areas in which religious tensions result in violence to encourage togetherness among peoples of divergent faiths. These activities would, naturally, raise his profile and bring him added attention.
While the concept of a merged faith system is appealing to some, like Saka, who seek peace, there are a multitude of leaders, particularly in the evangelical realm, who reject the central tenets of Chrislam. On his Christian Post blog back in 2011, David Dollins wrote a piece denouncing the concept called, "Chrislam -- A Spirit of Antichrist."
In it, he proclaimed, "Scripture itself declares 'Chrislam', the mixing of Christianity and Islam, to be a Spirit of Antichrist!" Dollins continues:
For these Church leaders, who are blind watchmen, to bring Islam and the reading of the Quran into the Church is to deny the Lord himself, it is to deny who He is, and it is to deny what He accomplished at Calvary's Cross 2,000 years ago, when He gave His life for the sins of the world! Just as bad, it is an open acceptance of the Spirit of Antichrist, which John said will bring swift destruction and ultimately, yet sadly, the damning of the soul.
What should the Church do now? We must get back to proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation without fear of reprisal. We must defend and preach the deity of Jesus, that He is the one true God and there is no other. Then we must also boldly proclaim the Holy Scriptures, not the Quran, as the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
Faith commentator Bill Muehlenberg agrees with this assessment, calling those Christians who embrace Chrislam "misguided." He claims that the use of a mixed-faith approach allows Muslims to enter into Christian circles in an effort to make those who do not embrace Islam "second-class citizens." The two faith systems, be believes, are "fully incompatible" and that their differences far outweigh their similarities. He continues:
Bringing a false religion like Islam into the Christian churches is really the beginning of the end of those Christian houses of worship. Sure, Christians can invite a Muslim – or any other non-Christian – into a Christian service to point them to Jesus the saviour, and to expose them to the truth claims of the biblical gospel.
Effectively signing your own death warrant by foolishly seeking for some sort of theological equivalence here is not the way to go. We help no one with that approach. It simply undermines the Christian faith and does an injustice to our Muslim neighbour who desperately needs to be set free from the bondage of Islam and released into the freedom of the gospel of Christ.
"Clearly, Islam and Christianity are mutually exclusive. Both claim to be the only true way to God, but both cannot be right," adds Christian Pastor John MacArthur. "There is no atonement in Islam, no forgiveness, no savior, and no assurance of eternal life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope; Islam is a religion of hopelessness."
These, of course, are only three perspectives. There are many others who would agree that Chrislam is a misguided faith convergence. Still, Saka stands by the faith he has helped to create and spread as a potential method for keeping the peace in a region known for sectarian violence.